How is it to have a Green Thumb in Saudi Arabia?

Being passionate in gardening and living in a middle eastern country could be a challenge. My initial 2 years were spent here under the assumption ‘it is not possible’. Until one day, I went to a local garden center and the journey began.

Failure is a first step towards learning lessons. A gardener knows what a plant needs but after failures. The key is light but how much? This is what we learn from practice and practice. I live in an apartment with South-West and South-East windows and got a green thumb too.

Initially, with the aim to collect only edible or usable varieties rather mere ornamental and demanding, my first visit to a local nursery brought me;

  • Aloe Vera
  • Basil
  • Persian rose
  • Chilli pepper
  • Mint

I placed them in my South-West facing balcony. It was December, and within 3 months they all died except Aloe Vera. It survived through different phases, first because it was a hard-to-kill plant among others, second, I took some appropriate actions in right time. Why others couldn’t survive despite of similar efforts, I figured out following reasons

  • Basil: With the onset of spring it bloomed and I LET IT TO BE. Flowers mean the plant is going to die once seeds are ready. So, what I should have done, pinch off the buds before they bloom. It keep the plant produce leaves provided it is not exposed to heat waves (keep indoors with indirect sun)
  • Chilli: From the nursery to my balcony the conditions changed, and chilli plant is known to feel those changes and stay in trauma for some time. They can survive through it if they are mature enough (in size and volume). However, my plant was small, hardly a foot high.
  • Rose: It lost exposure to sunshine or microclimate of the garden center. It got new buds and bloomed meanwhile, but at last got sick and died.
  • Mint: Heat wave took it away. High temperatures stress mint plant to produce smaller leaves and die ultimately. I should have kept it along with basil indoors.

Later, I bought Bougainville and Lemon plants during winter. Both plants thrive in direct sun and are tolerant to higher temperatures. But they lost 8 hr direct sun in my balcony and over that, exposed to winter breeze. Lemon dropped all its leaves, seeing which, I brought it inside near South-West window and waited whole spring till the onset of summers when it has grown a new shoot with few leaves. While bougainville, retarded its growth during winters and haven’t got the flowers yet due to reduction in direct-sun exposure.

Then I made a switch

One day, I was going through my pinterest when came across an article on NASA Clean Air study. All plants the study enlisted, can be kept indoor and they work as detox. So the expedition began since. During my monthly visits to garden centers across Dammam, I collected these plants.

  1. Lucky Bamboo
  2. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum)
  3. Peace Lily
  4. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)
  5. Flamingo Lily (Anthurium)
  6. Umberalla plant (Schefflera)
  7. Snake Plant (Sansevieria)
  8. Philodendrons
  9. Areca Palm
  10. Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera Deliciosa)
  11. Asparagus Fern
  12. Coleus
  13. Baby Rubber plant (Perperomia Obtusifolia)
  14. Succulents (Howarthi & Gasteria)
  15. Clathea Ornata
  16. ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia)
  17. Jasmine Sambac
  18. Eve’s Needle (Opuntia Subulata) – Cactus
  19. Gardenia Jasminoid
  20. Moringa

Most of them are in my spare room with a 5’x5’ South-West facing window and no AC. While a few are demanding so I placed them in lounge (again NO AC) and sleeping room (intermittent cooling)

Feeling Urge to Have Some?

I recommend following if you are starting your experience with plants in Saudi. These are easy-to-keep five plants and can sustain without watering for a week to a month.

  1. Pothos (Bright Indirect Sunlight or Bright artificial lights, Water Weekly indoor)
  2. Snake Plant (Low to bright indirect sunlight or artificial lights, Water Monthly indoor)
  3. ZZ Plant (Moderate to bright indirect sunlight or artificial lights, Water Monthly indoor)
  4. Aloe Vera (Moderate to bright indirect sunlight Water every 2-3 weeks, indoor)
  5. Any indoor cactus variety (water not before a month at least)

Since, tap water is treated and not underground, it might have chlorine and fluorine, so it is better to fill water container and keep over night before you feed it to the plants.

Next, Air conditioned Room (Intermittent or Continuous)

Living in Saudi with hot climate means air cooler (AC) is must thing. Outdoor temperatures can reach 50 ºC (122 ºF) whereas indoor without an AC can reach 30 ºC (86 ºC). Most indoor plants imported from North Africa and south American tropical regions can’t sustain or retard growth above 25 ºC (77 ºF). These six plants can make well in air-conditioned rooms.

  1. Calathea Penstreaks
  2. Philodendrons
  3. Areca Palm
  4. Pothos
  5. Baby Rubber Plant (Perperomia Obs.)
  6. Peace Lily

Make sure, you place them beside window so they get at least 8 hours indirect sunlight. As some residence places have smaller windows, artificial lights might work provided their frequency can meet requirements of these plants.

And the most fragrant plant, Gardenia Jasminoid. Though, it is high maintenance plant but it worth care. It’s a great addition indoors when you want a pleasant and relaxing environment. Read here

Keep a water spray bottle handy, and enjoy misting them occasionally. They love it.